Cyrano

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By Philip Pearce

IT’S INTERESTING the way that PacRep’s current season takes two central heroes of early 20th century European drama, Peter Pan and Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives them each a new look. Plus the frank theatricality of a handful of actors playing a whole lot of the characters involved in the stories of their lives.

In the June/July production of Peter and the Starcatcher twelve actors played more than 30 roles in a swashbuckling prequel to the August/July musical version of Peter Pan.

Now there’s an exciting new version of Cyrano, which tells the well-loved tale but pares nearly 50 speaking roles down to 27 to be played by a cast of nine.

When you think about it, Peter and Cyrano are cut from the same mold. Both are chock full of swaggering self-confidence, both are supernaturally brilliant swordsmen, both are sworn enemies of the social status quo. “I want,” Cyrano explains at one point, “to reduce the number of bows I have to make in a day.” Peter doesn’t want to grow up and have to make that kind of decision in the first place.

Like many another theater addict of my generation, I’ve always loved Rostand’s three hour, five-act marathon of moonlit romance, spontaneous poetry and dashing swordplay. But Michael Hollinger’s slick new translation and the fresh two-act adaptation of the text he shares with Aaron Posner make for a fast-paced and thoroughly satisfying evening in the Outdoor Forest Theater.

In a recent interview, Hollinger notes that the original script’s world of 17th century Paris isn’t exactly familiar territory to 21st century audiences. “It was important to me that the play speak to us, here and now, and therefore I made myself the litmus test of what would be accessible, immediate, funny, poignant, and so on.”

So there’s little left of Rostand’s blank verse or the sections of social comment on French society of the 1600’s. What comes across vividly is the central ironic dilemma of a man with a face so unsightly he can only use his supreme genius for poetic love talk to push his lady love into the arms of a handsome but tongue-tied rival.

Pacific Rep executive director Stephen Moorer is an active, touching and consistently funny Cyrano. He mines every vein of wit in the new script and catches most of the underlying pathos without ever slipping into the lilting Gielgud/Burton attitude and voice adopted by some Cyranos I’ve seen. His dying attack against social convention and phony officialdom is no reflective elegy, it’s a ruthless sword fight to the death.

This new version makes it easier to explore character motivations and navigate some of the finer points of 17th century French civic and military life by expanding the role of Le Bret. He’s no longer just Cyrano’s trusty military buddy; he’s a wise narrator who steps out of the action and into a spotlight to explain things directly to us ticket holders. It works admirably. Unlike Rostand’s audience but just like Shakespeare’s, we’ve reached a point where we like it when somebody pauses the story and comments on what’s going on. As always, Jeffrey T Heyer is clear and believable in the role.

The remainder of the players are busy and excellent, moving nimbly through two or three roles apiece. Jennifer Le Blanc is a beautiful, passionate Roxane, so swept up in a duet of Cyrano’s poetry and Gascon-cadet Christian de Neuvillette’s good looks that it takes her fourteen years to discover she’s been in love with the soul of one and only the body of the other.

Justin Gordon is an appealing Christian, a fresh military recruit who’s closely in touch with his feelings but clueless in expressing them. I liked his last-minute wide-eyed explosion of terror at having to woo the lovely Roxane, even coached by the eloquent Cyrano.

D Scott McQuiston is a bubbly and comically endearing Ragueneau, a pastry chef and would-be poet, who manages (in the interest of trimming down cast size) to shout protests at his wife for wrapping her pastries in the texts of his verses without her ever actually appearing on stage.

A small and energetic Andrew Mazer is convincingly tipsy as a bibulous cadet named Ligniere.  Lewis Rhames is willowy and comically inept as a plumed Parisian popinjay named De Valvert, one of a string of candidates for the hand of the fair Roxane. More purposeful and pompous is Michael Storm as another suitor, De Guiche, commander of Cyrano and Christian’s Gascon battalion. The versatile and surprising Garland Thompson moves effortlessly through five different roles, most notably in drag as Roxane’s busybody and sweet-toothed duenna and then in Rosary and wimple as the chatty, broom-wielding Sister Marthe.

Kenneth Kelleher’s direction manages, again and again, to make the nine-member cast look and act like a big crowd. My favorite segment of Act 1 is a sequence that doesn’t even happen in the old Rostand version. Cyrano, high and happy at some fond attention from his beloved Roxane, learns that a hundred sword-wielding thugs are planning a midnight ambush at the Porte de Nesle. He vows to bare his sword and carve them up, single handedly, one by one. Rostand’s script simply reports his success after the fact. Kelleher, Moorer and fight director Justin Gordon show it happening in a shadowy ballet of flashing swordplay which proves that perfectly timed farce can be both hilarious and beautiful.

I loved the show, but I had minor problems with the set design. The big outdoor theater stage allows for a lot of depth and width. But is the backstage area so limited that ingredients of Patrick McEvoy’s settings need to be stored in plain view instead of waiting in the wings to be wheeled on when required? The big quarter moon awaited its appearance in the balcony/garden scene from a position way upstage. And an unchanging background of blue-green wooden fretwork units gave a sense of clutter.

That said, it’s a must see, but take plenty of coats and blankets. It continues through October 15th.

 

 

Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

JURA MARGULIS to play the original piano version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. MUSIC IN MAY chamber music festival at Cabrillo’s Samper Recital Hall. CALIFORNIA ROOTS FESTIVAL’S weekend at the Monterey Fairgrounds. BARBERSHOP EXTRAVAGANZA at Carmel’s Unitarian Universalist. VLADA VOLKOVA-MORAN at Aptos Keyboard Series plays Bach on the new St John’s organ. SWEET JAZZ @ EMBASSY remembers Susan Helsten. For links to these and dozens of other live performance events, click on the display ads, left, or on our CALENDAR

NEW ORGAN AT ST JOHN’S

THE ORGAN (pictured above) was owned by the First Presbyterian Church in Marysville from 1869 until 2018 when it was sold to St John’s in Aptos for $1. Of course it cost a lot more to disassemble, move and reassemble. Moreover, it started out with a tracker action and was converted to pneumatic action. With the effort of leaders in the Marysville congregation it was rebuilt as a tracker pipe organ in the spirit of its 19th-century form by Manuel Rosales in 1981 and renamed Opus 7. Bill Visscher, locally well known as organist and organ builder, was part of the team at Rosales during the reconstruction and gave the inaugural concert last October. (Photo taken during a piano recital by Kate Liu.)

BACH FEST’S SUZANNE MUDGE GOING TO YMMC

YOUTH MUSIC MONTEREY COUNTY has announced its brass ensemble coach and Carmel Bach Festival community engagement director as its new executive director effective immediately following the 2019 Bach Festival. Click HERE 

ORCHESTRA IN THE SCHOOLS

STUDENT MUSICIANS will display their skills during a fundraiser this Thursday, May 23, 5 to 8pm, at the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club on Wharf II in Monterey.

CABRILLO FESTIVAL SPECIAL EVENT

TOMORROW (Wednesday), at 7pm in downtown Santa Cruz, UC Santa Cruz Distinguished Professor and feminist activist Bettina Aptheker will moderate a conversation with Judge Syda Cogliati, Attorney Anna M. Penrose-Levig, and Attorney Jessica Delgado about the significant cases and opinions Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has championed over the course of her career and the impact she has had on women’s equality, civil liberties, and racial justice under the law. The event will offer additional context to the premiere this summer of Kristin Kuster’s When There Are Nine. Click HERE 

MARIN ALSOP’S TAKI CONCORDIA NAMES NEW AWARDS

FORMER CABRILLO FEST music director’s foundation supports rising women conductors. Click HERE 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

2016 MARKED THE 400TH ANNIVERSARY of the death of William Shakespeare. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Hector Berlioz’ death. Shakespeare loomed huge in the life of the great French composer. Through the Irish actress Harriet Smithson’s performances in Paris of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, Berlioz fell in love with both, even though he didn’t speak English. (He persuaded the actress to become his wife, with less than blissful results.) In all, Berlioz composed music inspired by both plays, as well as The Tempest, King Lear and Much Ado About Nothing. This splendid new Naxos release celebrates three of them, with the Lear and Béatrice et Bénédict overtures filling out the set. Though just released, the recordings were made in Lyon in 2014, halfway through conductor Leonard Slatkin’s tenure as the Lyon orchestra’s music director. Roméo et Juliette is a 95-minute “dramatic symphony” for solo voices, chorus and orchestra, with a French text by Émile Deschamps after Shakespeare (with English translation in the CD booklet). The solo voices, mezzo Marion Lebègue and tenor Julien Behr, like the chorus, serves as narrators, while the bass Frédéric Caton is Friar Laurence. Berlioz uses the orchestra to paint the story line programmatically, starting with furious fugue that represents the brawl between the Capulet and Montague adolescents. Arguably, Part Two of the three part score, is the heart of the work, with “Romeo Alone” (feeling sorry for himself), followed by the festive party at the Capulet house and the sensuous love scene. The imagery in this orchestral writing is vivid and unequivocal. Under Slatkin’s direction, it is also gorgeous. (Richard Wagner, who famously called Berlioz “devilishly smart,” pinched the two themes for Roméo et Juliette and, with a single note change each, concocted his themes for Tristan und Isolde.)

THE ONLY KNOWN SYMPHONY from the hand of Saint-Saëns is No. 3 “Organ,” a crowd-favorite. So this new CD will come to many—or at least the curious—as a surprise. The short (23-minute) Symphony No. 2 in A Minor, Op 55, is a scintillating piece dating from1859, that while making plentiful use of fugal writing is actually quite breezy. Swiss flutist and conductor Thierry Fischer has been the Utah Symphony’s music director since 2009, and has made many recordings with them. This latest on Hyperion label also includes the Symphony in F “Urbs Roma,” composed when Saint-Saëns was 23 for a concert society in Bordeaux. The composer later acted to suppress the 43-minute piece (also in four movements like the Second Symphony) but it is certainly worth listening to as a clue his later progress and for its own sake. For the famous Danse macabre, the orchestra’s concertmaster Madeline Adkins plays the snarky solo. SM   

REMEMBERING STEVE MARTLAND

INNOVATIVE post-minimalist English composer died six years ago at age 58. Click HERE  Martland with Bang on A Can

 

RESTORING NOTRE DAME

THE CENTER OF LEARNING AND SCHOLARSHIP in the 12th century produced organum, a crucial foundation for Western polyphony and, by extension, harmony. How much of the cathedral’s highly checkered past should be replicated after last month’s devastating fire? Click HERE  

CHINA’S ‘BEST LEAF MUSICIAN’

LOU WENJUN has an endless supply of instruments. Click HERE 

FRESH REVIEWS

MONTEREY SYMPHONY’S season finale; MONTEREY COUNTY COMPOSERS FORUM. Click HERE

LUCKY LINDY and WAITING FOR GODOT in Carmel. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

HIDDEN VALLEY STRINGS in Carmel Valley and Santa Cruz. ROBERT WALTERS cor anglais recital at Hidden Valley. SMUIN BALLET in Carmel. MONTEREY PENINSULA COMMUNITY GOSPEL CHOIR. MONTEREY COUNTY POPS Memorial Day in Monterey. PACIFIC GROVE POPS ORCHESTRA. PACIFIC VOICES in Santa Cruz. TCHAIKOVSKY SPECTACULAR at Civic Auditorium. BELLINI’S OPERA NORMA in Santa Cruz. THE MIRACLE WORKER to open at The Western Stage

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

Monterey Symphony

By Scott MacClelland

BUT FOR THE FLYING DUTCHMAN OVERTURE and a tsunami washing the orchestra out to sea depicted on the program handout cover, the Monterey Symphony’s “Sound Waves” season came to a close in Carmel in what could be described as a traditional ‘meat and potatoes’ menu. Following the Wagner were Chopin’s Piano Concerto in F Minor and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Music director Max Bragado-Darman conducted the overture and the symphony from memory, interpretive ideas in mind but with existential spontaneity. The Wagner overture is constructed from themes in the opera itself—a common practice at that time and ours as well in American musical theater—principally the stormy oceanic image associated with the title character, the ‘ballad’ sung by the legend-besotted heroine Senta who is willing to die for him and the sailors’ exuberant chorus sung on returning home after weeks at sea. (Alicia Matromonaco’s program note rightly characterized the underlying theme of ‘redemption through love’ in this case, though that driving force applies no less to all of Wagner’s mature operas.) The opening storm scene was especially thrilling as the large orchestra on stage blared its swirling maelstrom.

Tall, head-shaved and with large hands, Cuban pianist Marcos Madrigal took the stage with a showman’s swagger and delivered in kind for Chopin’s first of two concertos—composed at age 19 but published after the later and more popular Concerto in E Minor, Op 11. Madrigal presented a clear interpretive concept of the piece but consistently blurred its clarity by his heavy use of the sustain pedal. What should have sparkled instead muddied, especially in the alto-tenor midrange of the fine Steinway grand. The heart of the 35-minute piece is its slow middle movement which provided a glimpse into the mature composer’s acute sensitivity to harmonic possibilities, an essential component of ‘romantic’ 19th century music. (In that respect, Chopin channeled JS Bach, a Baroque ‘romantic.’)

Nevertheless, the audience went wild over Madrigal’s flamboyance and were rewarded by a silly Cracker Jack candied-corn encore of the “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s Barber. (Why any artist of serious purpose would spend time memorizing such schlock suggests a never-outgrown childish need for approval, or at least attention.)

Bragado’s take of the Beethoven was expansive—36 minutes—mirroring the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler in the early 1950s. (The equally great Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini tried to get it done in 20 minutes.) I vote for Bragado; I’ve heard the piece dozens of times, live and on recordings, yet on Saturday night at Sunset Center I discovered details, especially in the winds, I had not previously taken into account. Some of them gave me goosebumps.

When the orchestra assembled after the intermission, the cellos and double basses did not soon appear. It seems the principal cellist had broken a string and needed time to install a new one and to let it quit stretching before the concert could safely resume.  

Madrigal didn’t elevate Chopin beyond himself. For me, the Wagner and Beethoven linger vividly, the Chopin and Rossini forgettable.